REGINA - Scientists have released what they say are the first guidelines on the best way to store carbon dioxide underground so that it doesn't get back out.
The hope is that companies will want to follow the standards to help reassure the public about the safety of carbon capture and persuade doubters about its validity.
The guidelines, officially known as CSA Z741, include looking at geology and whether CO2 could flow through a possible fault underground. They also set out requirements and recommendations for burying the greenhouse gas in a safe way.
They are not mandatory, but more of a template for the industry, said Carmen Dybwad, CEO of the International Performance Assessment Centre for Geologic Storage of CO2.
"It's nice to be able to have, if you will, a guide, a standard to go through and say, 'Yes, we have made sure that we've looked at everything. We've looked at the issue of subsurface trespass. We've looked at the issue of fractures. We've looked at the possibility of setting a microseismic event,'" Dybwad said Thursday. "You know — check, check, check, check, check.
"Any time that you've got a standard, that should ensure a lot of confidence that you're doing things properly because it's transparent, so now it's out in the open."
The Regina-based centre and the Canadian Standards Association brought together more than 30 industry experts, researchers and regulators from Canada and the U.S. to write the standards.
The committee included representatives from Princeton University, the University of Alberta, Cenovus Energy Inc., Husky Energy Inc., the International Energy Agency, the U.S.-based Ground Water Protection Council and the U.S. Geological Survey. They've been working on the guidelines since 2009.
The guidelines don't specifically say how deep or where carbon should be stored, but detail what must be accomplished to do it in a safe way.
Dybwad likened it to cooking a chicken. She said the chicken has to reach a specific internal temperature to be safe to eat, but that temperature can be reached in many ways such as roasting or barbecuing.
Bonnie Rose, president of the Canadian Standards Association group, said the goal is to have the guidelines used as a basis for international carbon capture. The International Standardization Organization has agreed to develop a standard in carbon capture and storage, she said.
"They have accepted the use of this document as the seed document, so it will absolutely play a role in or be a key element of the ISO standard," said Rose.
Carbon capture and storage involves gathering CO2 from power plants and refineries and injecting it deep into a porous rock formation. The goal is to prevent the gas from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
Jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan that rely heavily on coal-fired power plants need carbon capture and storage to work. The province plans to reduce 2006 levels of greenhouse gases by 20 per cent by 2020.
Crown utility SaskPower is testing the technology.
"We're blessed with coal in this province and it's our responsibility to burn it in the cleanest and most efficient way possible," said Environment Minister Ken Cheveldayoff.
But the technology has been panned as unproven and critics say not enough is known about the consequences.
Dybwad says the standards should help reassure people of the technology's validity.
"Should we wean ourselves off (fossil fuels)? Yes," she said.
"What's going to be necessary is a whole change in energy systems, but that's not happening overnight. Matter of fact, nobody sees that realistically happening for the next 40 years ... so the bottom line is we're going to be using fossil fuels for a long time.
"Energy efficiency? Absolutely brilliant. Need to do that too. (We) need to start using more renewables," she said.
"But for those fossil fuels that are going to be burned, this is the only game in town."